Will United Airlines End 401(k) Matching?

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In response to the current coronavirus pandemic, United Airlines has been forced to cut costs.  Coronavirus took a toll on the entire economy, but it came down especially hard on the airline industry. The dire combination of travel bans and consumer fear of flying during a pandemic put airlines in a very tough position.  

We have seen a consistent economic trend which shows that when a recession hits corporations will decrease or suspend benefits. We witnessed this in the 2001 recession when General Motors, Charles Schwab, Goodyear Tire & Rubber, & Ford all decreased or suspended their company match programs. The same happened in 2008, with Forbes reporting that nearly 20% of companies with over 1,000 employees reduced or suspended 401(k) contributions.  Unfortunately, that trend seems to be continuing in the wake of the current recession brought on by the Coronavirus pandemic. According to Market Watch, 16 major companies have suspended their 401(k) matching programs this year including Amtrak, Marriott Vacations Worldwide, and Tenet Health. General Electric & Lockheed Martin also made big news with their announcements to cut benefits in 2019. There have even been rumors of AT&T cutting benefits to hit their target goal of $10 billion in cost cuts. 

Will United Airlines be the next corporation to suspend or reduce their company match program? What would the consequences be?

Matching 401(k) contributions is one of the most popular benefits United Airlines offers.  A recent study showed that on average, employees who don’t maximize the company match leave $1,336 of possible retirement money on the table each year. So obviously a suspension of these benefits could dramatically change employees’ retirement plans. 

 To get a better idea of what an end to 401(k) Matching would look like, let’s take a look at ExxonMobil. ExxonMobil announced recently that they will no longer be matching U.S. employee’s contributions to their retirement savings plans. The suspension of these benefits will officially begin on October 1st, 2020. According to Reuters, ExxonMobil has now experienced, “its first back-to-back quarterly loss in 36 years because of the drop in demand during the novel coronavirus pandemic.” 

ExxonMobil has two savings plans available to employees, the first is the U.S. ExxonMobil Savings Plan (EMSP) and the second is the U.S. Supplement Savings Plan (SSP).  The company was matching a 6% minimum employee contribution with 7% of the participant’s pay.  These match programs will be suspended indefinitely beginning on October 1st. When benefits are frozen, employees in the mid to late portion of their career are usually hurt the most. If your company match program does end, it’s a good idea to calculate exactly how much this will affect your retirement savings plan. Forbes recommends maintaining your retirement contributions and even increasing them if you have the funds. This can help compensate for the loss of benefits.

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Sources:

Tretina, Kat. “What To Do If Your Employer Suspends 401(k) Matching Contributions.” Forbes, Forbes, 10 Apr. 2020, https://www.forbes.com/sites/advisor/2020/04/10/covid-19-employers-suspending-401k-matching-contributions/#7a48068b285f.

“The Retirement/Transition Guide for United Airlines Employees.” The Retirement Group, The Retirement Group, 11 Aug. 2020, https://aviationkit.theretirementgroup.com/united-guide-download-google

Business, Matt Egan, CNN. “Verizon’s Alternative to Layoffs: Retraining 20,000 Workers  – CNN.” CNN, CNN, 14 July 2020, https://www.cnn.com/2020/07/14/business/verizon-jobs-ceo-hans-vestberg/index.html.

Blanton, Kimberly. “More Cuts to 401(k) Matches Are Coming – MarketWatch.” MarketWatch, MarketWatch, 6 Aug. 2020, https://www.marketwatch.com/story/more-cuts-to-401k-matches-are-coming-2020-04-16.

Kelly, Jack. “Companies In Their Cost Cutting Are Discriminating Against Older Workers.” Forbes, Forbes, 3 Aug. 2020, 

Noe, Eric. “After Verizon, Are Pension Freezes on the Way? – ABC News.” ABC News, ABC News, 16 Dec. 2005, https://abcnews.go.com/Business/story?id=1378711.

https://www.forbes.com/sites/jackkelly/2020/08/03/companies-in-their-cost-cutting-are-discriminating-against-older-workers/#72017abd4436.

“Pension Lump-Sum Payment Windows Are Back.” The Retirement Group, The Retirement Group, 11 Aug. 2020, https://retirekit.theretirementgroup.com/pension-lump-sum-payment-windows-are-back-e-brochure

Root, Al. “Pension Plans Continue to Fade Away. Why That Brings New Worries.” Barron’s | Financial and Investment News, Barrons, 11 May 2020, https://www.barrons.com/articles/pension-plans-continue-to-fade-away-why-that-brings-new-worries-51589199204.

Waggoner, John. “What to Do If Your Pension Is Frozen.” AARP, 16 Oct. 2019, https://www.aarp.org/retirement/planning-for-retirement/info-2019/pension-plan-freeze.html#:~:text=Other%20major%20companies%20that%20recently,be%20a%20big%20financial%20hit.

Seba, Erwin. “Exxon to Suspend Company Match to Employee Retirement Plans in October: Sources.” Reuters, 4 Aug. 2020.

“U.S. ExxonMobil Savings Plan Changes.” ExxonMobil Employee Connect, https://hr.na.xom.com/us/benefits-policies/investmentindex#a1399111-ffff-4778-970e-cc8bb06ddd8a. Accessed 5 Aug. 2020.